How Netflix might be ruining my life

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WordPress doesn’t have a function for subtitles, but if it did, the subtitle here would be “And why I’m giving it up for Lent.”

I had a conversation a couple weeks ago with a peer, who described her nightly routine. It involved a quick-fix dinner, a glass of wine, and a laptop open to Netflix. I blinked and only just managed to keep myself from blurting, “That sounds just like my nightly routine!” Netflix: the recourse of those crazy conservative young adults who say with pride, “I don’t have cable” (and even, “I don’t have a TV”), but somehow manage to be strangely conversant in all things pop culture.

Back when my sister and I moved into our little Old Town apartment and really established ourselves as adults, I made my first telephone call to the cable company to set up our internet. With a twinge of pride, I told the friendly Comcast rep on the other end that I wanted to set up wireless internet for my home. He immediately listed off all my options for cable packages, from “basic” to “premium” to “platinum,” involving varying numbers of stations and options for my entertainment needs.

I cut him off about two minutes into his spiel. “I just want internet,” I said.

He didn’t quite gasp, but there was a decided sharp intake of breath on the other end. Then, determined not to be put off, he dove in again, starting back near the beginning of the script. “For just twenty dollars more per month, you and your family can enjoy unlimited…”

I cut him off again. “No, I really just want internet. I don’t watch TV,” I explained.

The pause that followed this statement can only be described as “pregnant.” There was a decided gravity to it that made me blush a little. At last he repeated what I’d said, with the air of a man who has just undergone the shock of his life. “You don’t watch TV,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“I don’t know a soul alive that doesn’t watch TV,” he said.

So the poor guy didn’t make much of a sale. I got my internet-sans-cable television for $29.99 per month. To this day, I only pay for wireless internet, and I still don’t watch TV.

Except that I have Netflix. The roommates and I have Netflix instant streaming, which gives us access to hundreds of thousands of movies, television series and shows, stand-up comedians and goodness only knows what else. I can waste hours of precious time staring like an imbecile into the face of my laptop, and still claim with pride, “I don’t watch TV.”

I don’t watch TV, but I still manage to stay up too late many nights watching this or that, and then snoozing the alarm in the morning.

I don’t watch TV, but I still end up watching a movie or another episode (or two) of whatever show instead of responding to emails, or writing blog posts, or working on other more worthwhile projects.

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I don’t watch TV, but I still end up wishing on many mornings that I didn’t have some dirty image or other lodged in my brain like a bad song.

I don’t watch TV, but I don’t have to. I can watch Netflix instead.

Of course, I don’t consider an occasional movie or television show to be a bad thing–not at all. Sometimes you need to wind down. Sometimes a little entertainment and relaxation can be a very good thing. It’s when said entertainment becomes  a habit that it gets to be problematic. When you can list it as part of your nightly routine, it’s safe to say it has become a real problem. At the very least, it lays the groundwork for a whole lot of very real problems.

Thank goodness I have social housemates who prefer sitting around the dining room table together many evenings, enjoying a glass of wine and good conversation. More than anything else, I recommend community as the best antidote to too much Netflix.

Barring that, though, Lent is just around the corner…

(I’m afraid Netflix would probably heartily disapprove of this message.)

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(Guest post): A look back at the gap

LifeintheGap is accepting (and requesting!) guest blog posts. The below is a first in what I hope will be a long succession of great insights from all sorts of people on living out the single life, whether you’re doing it now or looking back and sharing your story.

A look back at my “Twentysomethings”

A guest post by “Lurking”

I am married. I am 34 years old. I have a 2-month-old child (my first). I suppose I’m qualified to look back at my own life in-between.

Recently, the author of this blog posted a musing on our society’s new boundaries and expectations, or lack thereof, for adults in their twenties. This led to the following retrospective on my own twenties.

I turned 20 in 1998; I was attending community college part time and working full time. I had a serious girlfriend, and we planned to move in together the following year. This was the beginning of a series of serious longish-term relationships that would end in heartbreak. When I was about 26, I made a decision about one of these relationships, and proposed to my then-girlfriend. I loved her, and I was tired of the lack of structure, at least in my romantic life. This engagement did one priceless thing for me: It brought me back to my faith in a way nothing else had.

My thinking went like this: “If I’m going to make this permanent move in my life, I’m going to do it right, with the faith that has always had a small grasp on my soul.” Faith wasn’t an active part of my life at this time, but it was a part of my conscience, and I knew that it had to be a part of my marriage.

My engagement ended with my fiancée leaving me for another man four months before our wedding date. Yes, we had already sent out save the date postcards! This was devastating to me. I ended up losing my job, some of my friends, and my goals (not that I had really definite ones) were destroyed. It took me the better part of a year to put my life back together. I finished my bachelor’s degree a year later and got a better job that provided some intellectual and professional relationship challenges that served me well for the last two years of my twenties. I did not, however, have another serious relationship for about 18 months after that heartbreak.

I met my wife years later, when I was 31. I have been abundantly and undeservedly blessed ever since then; she is the best wife I could ever have hoped for. But, what could I have done differently? How did I survive those turbulent twenties when hope was very scarce and my heart felt like it died over and over again?

Looking back from the wise old thirties, I’d say the top five things I learned in this time period were:

1) Listen. This is what your friends and family–if you have a good one–are for. They really do know you, better than you know yourself in many instances. Do what they tell you when you are lost.

2) Surrender. Do it over and over again. Pray for the grace to surrender, utterly. Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, was my only source of comfort when I was in the depths of despair. I was brought to my knees and to a deep depression by my life’s circumstances, but I fight against that kind of low. You can surrender without being beaten down.

3) Travel. I know it’s hard because in your twenties, you don’t have much (or any) disposable income, but find a way. You’ll meet new people and learn more about yourself than you can ever hope to if you stay put and do only routine things.

4) Write. Express your feelings, document your days, share your perspective. I guess it doesn’t have to be writing, that’s just been my way of exercising my creativity. But be creative, now, while you have some time. File a patent, hang one of your own paintings on the wall, share your short stories with friends, submit a poem to a magazine, just do something to show yourself to the world around you. The dividends you will reap will be unexpected and make you smile; I guarantee it.

5) Walk. Keep putting one foot in the front of the other. God knows the journey you are on; you don’t.

And please pray for me, that my thirties will continue to be a decade of blessings. I also need strength and grace to change some parts of me that are still damaged and suffering from decisions I made in my twenties. No matter how old you are, we’re all still trying to walk with Christ. That’s what matters.

 

 

 

Twentysomethings

I read an article today in the New Yorker about “twentysomethings.” I read it in the print version while running on the elliptical at the gym, so between turning pages without breaking stride, keeping my head from bobbing too much (because then I got lost between the lines), and dealing with sweaty fingerprints, I may not have gotten as much out of the article as I otherwise would have. Still, I feel pretty confident I got the gist.

And the gist was…a lot of words about how the twenties are a decade to figure your life out and go with the flow before you have to settle into the business of being a real adult, which is overrated anyway. It’s a well-worn topic, and I won’t say this author brought anything to it we haven’t run into countless times before in some way or other (though it was the New Yorker, so he brought it off with a flourish). Still, he touched on an unsettling point I’ve been encountering more and more frequently in articles, conversations with my peers, and even in my own life. While it’s always been true that the twenties are an uncertain period in a person’s life, it seems that more than ever before it is a boundary-less time.

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These ladies are becoming the icon of our generation–the epitome of “boundarylessness,” but gritty, lacking all the “Sex and the City” glitz.

Not only do we lack the structure of commitment that seems to define full-fledged “adult” life, but we lack so many of the social and moral structures that existed for generations and sort of kept things in place. Of course for us young folk, the biggest missing boundary revolves around sex. We’ve swept aside the old where and when and with whom restrictions, and voila: we’re left with a tangled mess of bizarre encounters, broken relationships, and loneliness. Even those of us who live by Christian standards have to deal with the ramifications of a boundary-less and over-sexed culture. Our dating patterns are equally amorphous, we’re marrying later, and our sense of the proper roles of men and women suffer.

As a woman in the working world, I run into this constantly. Am I being less womanly than I should when I focus on doing my job and doing it well? Does that distract from the real business of focusing on findin’ me a good man and settlin’ down? Recently a guy friend jokingly told me (after I complained more than I should have about a particularly brutal week at work), “You shouldn’t be worrying about your career.” As in, you’re a chick, so just worry about finding a good man. And no, he wasn’t offering.

For men the challenges are different, and I can’t really begin to touch on them. (Guest post, anyone?) Still, it must be difficult to try to step into the leadership role when you’re faced with all sorts of women working in or striving after high-power jobs and focused on “advancing their careers.” And there’s a growing trend toward women taking the initiative in relationships because…well, why not? Saves the men the awkwardness of maybe being rejected and lets the women feel like they’re in control of the situation, and isn’t that how they both like it?

Besides, how can men be men when women hardly seem to be women? It’s tough.

Which brings us back to boundaries. When we’ve stepped over even the basic “gender roles” boundary, where does that leave us?

In another ten years, will we be reading articles about “thirtysomethings” and the continued protraction of adolescence? At a certain point, isn’t it limits and boundaries that give us the structures we need to grow up?

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A textbook case

We all have our recurrent stress dreams. Mine (embarrassingly) typically involves me realizing I’m stuck in a conspicuous location not wearing some crucial article of clothing. The really weird thing is I’m always holding said article, but just not willing to put it on until no one can see me. I once mentioned this to a friend who’s getting a higher degree in psychology and asked her what it meant about my subconscious state.

“Fear of vulnerability,” she replied, without missing a beat. Apparently mine is a textbook case.

It’s been a raw few months for me, facing insecurity in my work and feeling, many days, like I’m taking on the whole world by myself. I stumble home at the end of a long workday deflated and irritable, and I know I take it out on the people around me. There’s nothing like being brought low in life to make you feel known–and not in a good way. We all want to be known and loved; but there’s nothing scarier than having other people know some of those parts of you that just aren’t loveable. I catch myself holding my breath, waiting for the moment when they all finally throw up their hands and say, “Ok, babe, we gave it a good run, but we can’t take it anymore.”

Who could blame them?

So I’m tempted to tuck it all in and creep to my room and just hide until I can be pleasant and fun again. But really, who am I fooling? Just like in that ridiculous dream, I’m already exposed, and my quest to “find a private place” where no one will see me in my weakness is the proverbial exercise in futility.

I am not perfect. What’s more, people know it. As my sisters would say, “It’s all good.”

Somehow friends and family manage to forgive and love me anyway, in spite of my moping, snapping, sarcasm, bitter and self-deprecating remarks, and whatever other ugly things come bubbling to the surface day after day. Somehow I’m that blessed. I don’t get it, and there are moments when I hate it, but the simple fact is I am (we are all) vulnerable. So there’s no point in being afraid of it.

Back to the normal

And now a moment of tribute to a Christmas tree that has been very dear to me. 

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Christmas Tree # 27 in a long line of holiday adornments. You’ve been a good tree, tree. 

Sadly, all good things must end.

The lights and wreaths are coming down all over the neighborhood, and discarded trees have begun to line the sidewalks. The roommates and I sat around last night and agreed the time has come to take down our tree as well. It still stands bravely in its corner by the sofa, though its needles have started to fall off and its branches droop. 

I have never been an advocate of leaving Christmas trees standing until spring. I know some households that keep them up at least until February, and even that strikes me as a little much. The Christmas feast officially ended on Sunday, didn’t it? Granted, the season continues, but the time for decorated trees has past.

I will admit to a little tinge of sadness, though. Letting go of Christmas and drifting back into ordinary time gets harder every year. Who was it that said, “Heaven can wait?”

He clearly never got much out of Christmas. 

Improve your mind

I’ve started carrying books around with me (total weight of purse with said objects: about 84 pounds), in the vain hope that I’ll start making time for real reading and improvement of my mind. I’ve been carrying the books around for about two weeks. So far I’ve read one page.

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That’s one page of the foreword to my particular translation of Plato’s “Republic.” 

I mean, it’s the thought that counts, right?

In all seriousness, though: getting back to basics by reading the classics is Item #1 on the agenda for this year. Once I figure out what extras in my schedule can go so I have some free time. 

I heard you roll your eyes.

The hardest thing

The hardest thing about trust is that it’s so easy. 

Just accepting that God has all the fuzziest parts of my existence under control involves way too much resignation. It’s so much simpler to worry, to lie awake at night and wonder how it can possibly all turn out okay, to pick at my meals, to be short with friends, to sneak away early from parties and sob during my commute home from work. None of that requires any stretching on my part. As long as I can panic and imagine the worst-case scenario in every situation, I can continue to be myself, and I can be comfortable.

Please, just don’t ask me to trust that God the Father loves me and will take care of me. 

Don’t ask me to accept all things with joy, because they are his will. 

The effort involved in letting go of my sense of control might just break me. 

Happy New Year!!!

New Year’s resolution #1: Keep up more faithfully with this blog.

I’ll get started tomorrow.

While we’re waiting to get back into actual posts, though, enjoy the new header, photograph courtesy of Carrie J. Baker, whose other amazing work can be viewed here: http://cargocollective.com/cjbarchived

Hopefully lots of other new things to come as we move into 2013. Meanwhile, I wish you a blessed return to work/normal life after all the great celebrating. But don’t forget, it’s still Christmas! Merry Christmas to you and yours.